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Trend watch: Why mid-century modern never goes out of style
Mid-century modern: Iconic in look, enduring in style. Photo: Lesha Tuman/Pexels

Trend watch: Why mid-century modern never goes out of style


If we say "vintage furniture," you're probably thinking mid-century modern. We break down the essentials of this timeless style, explore its enduring impact on design today, and suggest some MCM furniture and decor specialists to visit

I recently told a few friends that I was working on a piece about mid-century modern design.

I was met with a flurry of questions: “Mid-century, that means the 1950s, right?”

“Like the offices in Mad Men?”

They all wondered: “Why does everyone love mid-century furniture? Is it valuable? Should I check if there’s any MCM stuff in my grandma’s basement?”

It’s hard to ignore the enduring popularity of mid-century design, but the true meaning of mid-century can be hard to pin down, so I set out to answer a few of their questions.

Our series Trend Watch helps vintage sellers and buyers to learn about art and design movements, so if you’re wondering where mid-century design originated or why people are still obsessed with it today, read on!

The origins of mid-century modern architecture and interior design

The world underwent a series of massive upheavals in the first half of the 20th century: The grim destruction of World War I made way for the optimism of the Roaring Twenties, which had its hopes dashed by the Great Depression (contrary to popular belief, the Depression affected nearly every country in the world, not just the United States).

By the early 1940s, most of the world was directly or indirectly involved in World War II.

Popular furniture styles during these decades included Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Furniture made in these styles featured curved lines and highly-ornamental details.

Makers used dark wood and large-scale proportions when creating pieces for formal rooms in stately homes, so these pieces were usually very heavy and imposing.

Post-WWII, society underwent a fundamental change. A marriage and baby boom caused a drastic rise in the population: in 1951, the world population was about 2.5 billion people; by 1961, this number had risen to nearly 3.1 billion.

Suddenly, lots of young families were living in city apartments and tract housing in the suburbs, creating a huge demand for smaller furnishings at an affordable price.

Furniture was now being made in factories instead of by hand, which meant streamlining furniture designs and abandoning ornate details.

All these factors worked together to popularize what we now call mid-century design, which at the time was known as modernism or the International Style. 

Key characteristics of mid-century modern decor/furniture pieces

Post-war designers placed an emphasis on function and economy. Homes and furnishings were designed to be affordable and useful for the new American family. Modern interior design focused on attributes like:

  • Open floor plans
  • Organic materials, such as wood cabinetry or brick siding
  • Man-made materials, such as metal, plastic, and glass
  • Large windows to connect with the outdoors
  • Neutral tones
  • Solid colours (no patterns)

Furniture pieces produced during the modern period featured clean lines and solid construction; they were smaller, so they could fit in apartments and small homes; and they were sold at popular department stores such as Sears Roebuck, so anyone could purchase them with cash or store credit.

Why we call it “mid-century modern”

So why is this style now known as mid-century modern? Simply put, modernism has continued to evolve as we get further and further away from the post-war period.

Today, this style is known as mid-century modern in order to situate it in time and differentiate it from the late modern and postmodern design waves that followed.

Why the MCM aesthetic continues to dominate

What is it about mid-century modern furniture that makes it so enduring and desirable?

Home design trends may come and go, but classic lines are always in style. A solid teak and glass hutch will look great in any living room, regardless of whether it’s styled with period-appropriate barware, ’80s gems, or bright Y2K favourites.

Another reason for MCM furniture’s ongoing popularity is the declining quality of most furniture on the market today.

In the same way that fast fashion is pumping out new trends with little regard for quality or the environment, major furniture makers use particle board and other cheap materials to produce standardized pieces on a massive scale.

These pieces are prone to breakage and have a short lifespan: Studies estimate that Americans throw out a shocking 12 million tons of furniture every year.

On the flip side, most mid-century furniture was made with solid materials, meaning that pieces can be repaired and refinished rather than being sent to the landfill.

As Courtney Newman, owner of ModernWay in Palm Springs, California, said to the Washington Post: “Because it’s so well-made and so iconic in style, [MCM furniture] kind of never leaves the marketplace.”

The secondhand mid-century market may be more expensive due to popularity, but most buyers view MCM pieces as a sustainable investment that will appreciate in value as time goes on.

Mid-century modern subgenres of note 

Here are a few mid-century genres to be aware of if you want to start collecting MCM furniture or homewares:

Danish or Scandinavian modern design

After the war, designers across Scandinavia started creating home goods to serve the growing middle class. They focused on creating functional, beautiful, and affordable items.

Many of these items are still in production, like Carl Hansen & Søn’s wishbone chair designed by Hans Wegner or Dansk kitchenware pieces originally designed by Jens Quistgaard.

Look for designers and manufacturers such as Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton, Greta Magnusson-Grossman, Fritz Hansen, Gubi and Poul Cadovius, among others.

Miami modern architecture (MiMo)

Many resorts around Miami were built in the 1940s, as designers rebounded from the Great Depression by taking a more-is-more approach to architecture. MiMo style is fun and exuberant: think curved lines, bright colors, wall cutouts, and boomerang angles.

To preserve this style, over 250 buildings in this area have been granted special protections against demolition; check out a few examples of Miami modern architecture.

Canadian modern

Canadians made their own contribution to the world of MCM design, and there’s an interesting history behind it.

In 1946, the Art Gallery of Ontario mounted an exhibition called “Design in the Household,” which primarily featured pieces on loan from MoMa in New York City. Visitors left comments asking why “all the modern designs” were American.

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In 1949, the National Industrial Design Committee distributed a brochure called “Good Design Will Sell Canadian Products” to thousands of companies across Canada.

This brochure revealed a growing interest in home-grown design and helped launch a new wave of modern Canadian designers. (Thank you to Vintage Home Boutique for this great history; read more here.)

Look for makers such as RS Associates (pictured below), Robin Bush Associates Ltd., Jacques Guillon, Russel Spanner, Frank Gehry and Gerald Easden.

Key mid-century materials

Here’s a quick guide to the materials commonly used in the production of mid-century furniture:


One of the hallmarks of mid-century furniture is the use of hardwoods such as oak and walnut. Their dense wood is perfect for furniture-making, but these trees grow slowly, making them more expensive than cheaper softwoods like pine.

When we think of mid-century furniture, we usually think of teak. Teak trees are native to South East Asia and Africa. Teak wood is very heavy, with a straight grain that is well-suited to the minimalist MCM aesthetic.

Some MCM pieces are very collectible because they are made of wood that is no longer used in furniture production. Rosewood was once a popular material, but it is now considered an endangered species and can no longer legally be logged today, making vintage rosewood pieces very expensive.


Metals such as chrome and brass were common in mid-century homes. American designer Milo Baughman produced several upholstered chair designs that featured sharp angles and chrome bases.

Brass is durable and relatively inexpensive, so many manufacturers used brass caps to protect furniture legs from damage. Mid-century pieces can often be found with their original brass caps in place.


You may be surprised to learn that Acrylite, Plexiglas, Lucite, and Perspex are all different names for the same thing! These are brand names for a type of transparent plastic called Poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), a hard-wearing material that resists scratching and doesn’t yellow.

PMMA gained popularity in the 1930s and was widely used in the production of wartime machinery. By the late 1940s, PMMA was everywhere, from windows to jewelry to dining chairs. Mid-century PMMA pieces come in all sorts of interesting shapes and styles.

Iconic mid-century items to look out for

There are lots of iconic mid-century designers and items to look out for when shopping secondhand!

Here are a few of our favourites:

  • The Cesca chair by Marcel Breuer (1928)
  • Le Corbusier’s Chaise Longue lounge chair (1930s)
  • Isamu Noguchi’s glass and wood coffee table (1944)
  • The Ball Clock by George Nelson (1949)
  • The Eames lounge chair by Charles and Ray Eames (1956)
  • Dansk Købenstyle cookware by Jens Quistgaard (1956)
  • Eero Saarinen’s tulip dining table (1957)
  • The Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen (1959)
  • Poul Henningsen’s PH5 pendant lamp (1958)
  • The Arco floor lamp by Flos (1962)

Find mid-century modern vintage sellers

Many, if not most, vintage furniture and decor sellers will have MCM-era products in their inventory, so you're bound to find great pieces at your local bricks-and-mortar stores and online shops, no matter where you are located.

As a starting point, we've rounded up 27 mid-century modern specialists to check out — many offer online shopping as well.

Morceau | Montreal, QC

Ethel 20th Century Living | Toronto, ON

Eighty Four and a Half | Toronto, ON

Murphy's Mid-Century | Calgary, AB

Attic Treasures | Vancouver, BC

Mid-Century Modern Market | London, ON

Brassy Beehive | Edmonton, AB

Zig Zag Vintage Modern Design | Toronto, ON

Full Circle Furniture | Richmond, BC

Former Modern | Las Vegas, NV

Decade Five Furniture | Whitby, ON

Reclaim Vintage | Calgary, AB

MidModCollect | Peterborough, ON

Epoca Haus | Winnipeg, MB

Showroom Montreal | Montreal, QC

Mid Century Modern Shop | Vancouver, BC

Jack's Daughter of All Trades | Toronto, ON

Cook Street Vintage | Victoria, BC

Mid Haven Furniture | Puslinch, ON

Bex Vintage | Calgary, AB

Banana Lab | Vancouver, BC

Retrospekt | Halifax, NS

Vintage Home Boutique | Toronto, ON

Hoopers | Winnipeg, MB

Kollektion | Calgary, AB


Sarah Israel is a content strategist, creator, owner of Dwelling on the Past and member of the Vintage Sellers Community.

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